- Written by M. Alison Kannon
In the 16th and early 17th Centuries the term "hose" was used for garments belonging to both men and women.
Men's hose typically encompassed both the pants, such as Trunk hose, Venetians, and French hose which covered the abdomen and upper legs, as well as the canions, hose, netherstocks and stockings which covered the lower legs and feet.
At the end of the 16th Century and into the 17th century the term was also used to refer to boot-hose. For women the term "hose" referred to their stockings. In this article we will investigate the history and construction of lower hose: netherstocks, stockings, and boot-hose.
Beyond Plain White Linen
When considering 16th Century cloth stockings, costumers most often think solely of white linen stockings. However, cloth stockings were not only made of white linen, but of many different materials and colors. While Elizabeth did possess knitted silk stockings, there are several notations in Elizabeth I’s wardrobe of silk cloth stockings made for her by her hosier Henry Herne. (In fact, Alice Montague is listed as having fed Her Majesty’s love of knitted stockings, and Herne is listed specifically has having supplied cloth hosen.)
Herne did not only supply hosen for Her Majesty. He is also indicated as having made several kinds of cloth hose for other members of Elizabeth’s court:
- Russet cloth hose lined in linen and welted with wool for her fool, Jack;
- A pair of green cloth boot-hose trimmed with red silk;
- A pair of green cloth stockings “stitched upon with silke of sondry colors”;
- A pair of red cloth stockings embroidered with yellow silk;
- ...and even a pair of green cloth stockings “trimed with lace of silke of sondry collors with setting on of red sarceonet lined with red kersey”.(Arnold, 1988 p.206)
As you can see, the cloth and color combinations used during the period varied widely. Silk and linen were quite popular, but far from the only materials used.
Similarly, hosiers were not limited to white. A wide variety of colors were used, including, but not limited to, red, green, yellow, and blue.
Types of Sewing Thread
In addition to the types of cloth used, we should also pay special attention to the types of thread used to sew the hosen together. Several different types of thread are listed in the construction of 16th and early 17th Century hosen. Many of those listed in Elizabeth’s inventories are noted as having been stitched with silk thread. (Arnold, 1988, p.208)
There are excellent descriptions of the threads used for three extant pieces given in Patterns of Fashion 4. A 17th Century pair of boot-hose tops were constructed and embroidered with linen thread; a second pair of full boot-hose listed in the same volume is listed as having been stitched in cotton thread (although it is also indicated that further testing is necessary to be sure), and a third pair are presumed also to have been sewn with linen thread. (Arnold, 2008, p.108-9). While cotton is listed as a possible thread fiber used for one of the pairs of stockings described, silk and linen are listed most often, both in descriptions from the period and in Patterns of Fashion, and it is likely that they would have been the most popular choices.
Construction and Decoration
While construction methods of 16th and 17th century stockings were more standardized than those of earlier periods, some variation did still exist. A wide variety of decoration methods were employed.
Cloth hosen were typically cut on the bias and seamed up the back in order to provide a tight fit to the leg. Examples in Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 also indicate that the heel of the hosen and the top of the foot would have been integral to the stocking’s body. A separate front foot piece with integral gores made up the base of the foot portion of the stocking. These gores or “clocks” were inserted into seams at the ankles in order to ensure a close fit for the foot. (Arnold, 2008, p.207) (Fig 33, 42) However, it is unlikely that this was the only construction method used for the gores and the foot piece. In fact, Textiles and Clothing describes a pair of 16th Century hosen with an integral heel but clocks that are separate from the foot piece. (Crowfoot, p.188-189)
Examples of extant boot-hose listed in Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 offer us an excellent insight into the sewing methods used to construct cloth hosen during the period. It was very important that measures be taken to reduce bulk on the seams so as to make them more comfortable to wear and prevent them from rubbing the feet raw. A large portion of the back seam of the stockings appears to have been sewn with a running stitch and then flat felled to reduce bulk and add strength to the seam. However, at the base of the foot, that changes. The seams at the base of the heel and around the foot appear to have been sewn with a backstitch and then left open with the raw edges of the fabric turned out. In some examples the edges have then been whipstitched down. The clocks appear to have been set in with a backstitch and the raw edges then left inside.
Hosen are most often thought of as having been unlined, but this may not have always been the case. Notations for “double linen” and “single linen” hose appear in the inventories for Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe (Arnold, 1988, p. 209). While these descriptions are vague, presumably double linen hose were lined while single linen hose were not. There are several descriptions of lined cloth hose made by Henry Herne, the Queen’s hosier. Notations in her wardrobe inventories indicate that in 1571 he made her “Eleven peire of cloth Hose doble welted with vellet and lined with sarceonette stitched with silke.” Sadly, it is not indicated whether or not these were full linings, but if they were they would most likely have been intended to provide additional warmth. (Arnold, 1988, p. 208) In addition, after Herne ceased to be royal hosier (either due to his death or retirement), Her Majesty’s tailor supplied “six paire of doble linnen hose of fine hollande clothe” for the wardrobe in 1597. (Arnold, 1988, p. 206)
Hosen were often richly decorated. There are several notations of hose made for Elizabeth with “[c]locks richelie wroght with gold silver and silk”. It is indicated that these were made for her by Robert Morland, who took over the role of hosier in 1597. It is not indicated whether these hosen were cloth or knit but their descriptions are included with other orders for cloth hosen, and the notation “wroght with gold silver and silk” indicates that they were likely cloth and embroidered. (Arnold, 1988, p. 206)
In addition to embroidered clocks (Fig 2, 4) there are also several extant examples of hosen with their tops embroidered with polychrome silks and gold and silver threads (Arnold, 1988, p. 207, fig 300); notations in a warrant from 1565 indicate that Herne made a “payre of stockings of grene cloth stitched upon with silke of sondry colors”. (Arnold, 1988, p. 206) Several pairs of decorated boot-hose tops and a pair of full boot-hose are listed in Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4. One pair of tops is listed as having been embroidered with linen thread and a pair of full boot-hosen is listed as being decorated with linen braid and fringe.
More information on common decorations for stockings and boot-hose can also be found in Stubbs' Anatomie of Abuses. In his 1583 treatise Stubbs goes into great detail to describe many methods of decorating boot-hose that he found to be quite unseemly.
They have also boothose which are to be wondered at; for they be of the fynest cloth that may be got, yea, fine inough to make any band, ruffe or shyrt needful to be worn: yet this is bad inough to were next their greasie boots. And would God this weare all: but they must be wrought all over, from the gartering place upward, with nedle worke, clogged with silk of all colors, with birds, foules, beasts, and antiques purtrayed all over in comlie sorte. So that I have knowen the very nedle work of some one payre of these bootehose to stand, some in iiii pound, vi pound, and some in x pound a peece. Besides this, they are made so wyde to draw over all, and so longe to reach up to the waste, that as litle, or less, clothe would make one a reasonable large shurte. Phillip Stubbes, Anatomie of Abuses (1583)
These examples help to illustrate the construction and decoration details found in cloth stockings of this period. As you can see, while some methods were more standardized, there was still variation in their construction, especially with respect to decoration methods. Although it’s common to think of these stockings as being plain and utilitarian, that is not necessarily the case.
How they were worn
The wearing of these stockings was pretty straightforward with little variation, except with respect to gartering methods.
Men’s stockings would often be worn with the tops pulled up over the bottom of the canions or upper hose and gartered or cross gartered about the knee. (Fig 5, 7, 10) However, there are depictions of men wearing their hose so that the tops of the netherstocks are underneath the upper hose. (Fig 1, 3, 10) Because women did not wear upper hose, they simply wore their stockings gartered about the knee.(Arnold, QEWU, p. 207)
The simplest method of gartering is simply to tie the garter just below the knee and just above the calf, a position also known as “the gartering place”. (Fig 6, 8) This method was used by both men and women. One of the big benefits of this method is that because the calf is larger in diameter than the area just below the knee, one usually does not have many issues with the garter falling down.
Alternatively, one could "cross garter": the garter was wrapped below the knee, crossed behind the knee, wrapped again and tied off above the knee. (Fig 11) Cross gartering appears to have been primarily used by men, however; it does not appear to have been quite as popular as the simpler, more straightforward method discussed earlier. With both methods however, the garters were most often tied off with the bow placed to the outside of the knee.
By the end of the 16th Century a rise in the popularity of knitted stockings caused some cloth types to fade out of fashion. However, linen stockings continued to be worn, especially underneath knitted stockings to prevent damage from oils and perspiration. They may also have been worn to provide additional warmth. (Arnold, QEWU, p. 110) Boot-hose also continued to be made out of cloth, and became more and more ornate as the 17th Century wore on.
Although a practical garment, stockings of the late 16th and early 17th centuries were far from the plain white utilitarian garments that we imagine. A wide variation of materials, colors, and decoration methods could make them plain or ornate depending on the owner's tastes and desires.
Patterning, fitting and assembling 16th-17th century stockings
Now that we have discussed their construction and popular decoration methods, let’s discuss creating a pair of stockings of our own. The pattern that we will be draping is based on extant examples depicted in Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 and we will be patterning our stockings by draping them directly onto our subject’s leg.
Stockings of the period would have been sewn by hand using the stitches we discussed earlier. In this tutorial we will save a little time by using a machine for inner seams, which aren't visible.
- Straight pins
- 3 yards (3m) of 45" (112cm) wide muslin (for draping and mock up)
- 1 yard (1m) of 60" (150cm) wide linen (for the stockings)
Draping the Pattern:
Fitting Your Pattern
Cut out your paper pattern and trace it out onto the remaining muslin fabric to make a mock-up for your stocking. Cut out your pattern pieces and assemble the mock-up. Baste the back seam together first and then add in the bottom piece of the stocking:
Assembling Your Stocking
Trace your newly altered pattern out onto your linen fabric. Remember, the bottom of the stockings should be cut on the grain while the upper portion of the stocking must be cut on the bias. Cut out your pattern pieces.
Sew the leg seam of your first stocking and sew in the bottom foot piece as you did for the mock-up. Remember to leave the tops of your gores open, as we will be sewing those in by hand. If you wish, treat the edges as you sew seams by serging or oversewing them with a machine zig-zag stitch. If not, press them open.
Sew in the tip of your gores (the clocks):
Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. W.S Maney & Son's LTD. Leeds, England. 1988
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c1540-1660. Macmillian. London, England. 2008
Singman, Jeffrey L. Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. Westport, CT. 1995.
Leed, Drea. "Stubbes on Fashion: Excerpts from Phillip Stubbes ' Anatomie of Abuses, 1583". ©2000 Dayton, OH: Author. Retrieved 3/15/10 from the World Wide Web.
Crowfoot, Elisabeth et al. Medieval Finds in Excavations in London: 4 Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. The Boydell Press. Woodbridge, England. 1992.